This sermon was originally preached at North Star United Methodist Church in Nikiski, AK on February 10, 2019. To watch the full recording, click here.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
When I read this scripture, I was reminded of a recurring experience from my childhood. I remember I would try to do something on my own, like use the new TV remote or open a jar. And it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t get the jar open and the TV wouldn’t turn on. And then I’d go to my parents, usually my dad, and let him know that I tried and it wasn’t working. He, with good intentions, would always ask me if I did it ‘this specific way’, which obviously, yes dad, I did and it’s still not working. So then he’d say, ‘okay let me try it’, and I’d roll my eyes while he’d go and do the exact same thing I did, but somehow did it better, because every time, whatever the thing was would finally work or open. It still happens today, and it’s still just as frustrating.
I was reminded of this because Simon Peter does the same kind of thing. He had been out fishing all night, in the deep water, and had caught no fish. Then Jesus comes in, and says ‘hey, try it this way’, to which Simon Peter replies, ‘yeah we already did and we have no fish’. But because he is Jesus, he let down the nets again, like they had done the night before. And of course, it worked. They started getting fish so quickly that it began to break the nets and sink the boats.
In my case, I blame my dad always getting things to work as dumb luck or witchcraft. But in this situation, with Jesus and Simon Peter, Jesus was teaching Simon that he needed his guidance to make the fishing thing work, and that it would end up working better if he looked to Jesus.
When I think about all that people do, to make the world a better place, to serve the church, I can also see this incredibly scary feeling of being overwhelmed constantly. We as a society have romanticized being busy, which leads to people being overworked and eventually burning out. Whether your thing is being on a board, helping at the food pantry, cleaning the church, etc. the reality is that all of us are working so hard. Some of us are already at that point of feeling burnt out, exhausted, and others are well on their way.
We are like Simon Peter, who has been fishing all night. He was tired. He just wanted to clean his nets and move on. But Jesus tells him that now isn’t the time to give up. Instead, he offers a way for him to fish without having to feel that exhaustion, without that burnout.
Self-care is kind of a tricky topic. It’s really popular these days, and it often equates to things like bubble baths or reality TV binges. But when we really think about self-care, beyond it being important, we actually are called to it.
Jesus, throughout his ministry, promises and encourages rest among all his people. He does this by making a promise, in our passage today, to Simon Peter, saying that he will help him do this thing without it being absolutely exhausting. Jesus is offering self-care to Simon Peter, which Simon reluctantly says yes to.
What we might take from this interaction today, is that mission doesn’t need to lead to burnout. And more specifically, when we are following Jesus and listening to God, our work becomes more than work. It becomes a part of our spiritual life. When something fills us spiritually, it means it is life giving, allowing us to be filled by something greater than what we can do ourselves. It means letting go of how we think things should be done, and instead, asking how God can help us with the task at hand.
Sometimes we can feel like we need to do more to prove our worthiness or our belovedness, but the reality is, that no amount of service or busy-ness can change how loved we are from the very beginning. But God does want to partner with us as we serve, as we help others. God can help us move from a place of doing things because it makes sense in our brains, to doing them with God’s purpose in mind.
It’s kind of like the phrase, work smarter, not harder. When we work smarter, meaning working towards hearing God more in the areas we serve, God can show us the right time and the right places to fish. In the end, this can save us some of the frustration and the tiredness of working around the clock just to find out something isn’t working how we want it to, or how we hoped it would.
We can care for ourselves by listening for Jesus, by looking to him for the ways he encouraged all the folks like us throughout scripture, ordinary people who wanted to serve the same God we do. And we can also care for ourselves by serving in moderation, by being okay with taking breaks. By turning our phones off, by taking a week off, by saying no to a project. Part of self-care is finding balance, balance to serve and make an impact, but not at the expense of rest.
Simon Peter couldn’t predict that Jesus would come and overflow his boat with fish the night before, when he was out all night. But he did try to get those fish, and when he realized it just wasn’t happening for him, he decided to call it a night and wash the nets, going back to try another day. Sure he was frustrated, and he was obviously hoping for those fish sooner rather than later, but he also understood himself, that he couldn’t just stay out there fishing for days, because he wouldn’t be getting filled himself.
Today, instead of a challenge, I want to encourage you. Actually, depending on who you are and how hard it is for you to take a break, it actually kind of is a challenge, now that I think about it.
What I hope we can learn from this passage of Jesus and Simon Peter, is that Jesus doesn’t want us to work hard so that we are tired, or to the point that we want to quit. Jesus wants to help us, to be our guide, our leader, so that those things don’t happen.
My hope is that you, wherever you find yourself leading, serving, helping, existing, you can allow yourself to take a break when you need it. That you can say no to that meeting, that you can leave the floor un-vacuumed for an extra day, that you can step back when you’re feeling overwhelmed, that you can take that medication.
Jesus didn’t call us to be busy. Jesus called us to make disciples. There’s a huge difference. God created us to be in relationship, not in social overdrive or overexposure to people. When we allow God to be God, and us to listen when we feel overwhelmed, we are caring for ourselves in the way we were created to do so.
So this is your encouragement, slash challenge if you are one of those workaholic types like me:
May you understand that enough is enough, even when there is more to do. May you see God in the ways you care for your body, your soul, and your spirit. May you serve with Jesus as your guide, listening for him to find you the best spot to fish. And finally, may you know that God’s love for you, your worth, has absolutely nothing to do with what you’ve accomplished. Let us pray.
God of overwhelming grace and love, we thank you for your tender care in the times of our life where we need it most. You call us to do big things, and you remind us that while we do it, we also need rest. Remind us that you rested too. Give us the strength to pause and the permission to pause longer. We ask these things in your precious name, Amen.